How much does it cost to replace a headlight bulb?
Brighter and longer-lasting car headlights are all well and good, but some are far pricier to replace than traditional halogen bulbs. We look at the differences...
When it comes to headlight bulbs, there’s a big gulf between the latest LED and high-intensity discharge (HID) or xenon units and halogen bulbs, which have been around in various forms for nearly 60 years. HID and LED bulbs are far brighter halogens, they can last up to 10 times as long and they project a wider, higher beam of light that’s cleaner and whiter.
So there are lots of reasons to recommend LEDs and HIDs over halogens for car headlights. All three types of bulb can legally be used in the front and rear lights of cars, and an increasing number of car makers are switching to LEDs and HIDs for their smaller, cheaper models as well as more upmarket, larger cars.
Of the 13 small hatchbacks we looked at, three had LED lights and four had HID lamps as standard on some or all trim levels. That’s a good thing, because they give drivers better visibility at night and in poor weather conditions.
However, LED and HID bulbs are far more expensive to buy than halogens, and some car companies have also switched to sealed headlight units that can’t be opened up in order to change a blown bulb. This hikes up the price of a blown bulb even more; four of the models we looked at came with sealed headlight units that cost between £684 and £846 to replace.
You might not flinch if a replacement headlight unit for your £160,000 Bentley Bentayga comes in at a three-figure sum, but those of the Honda Jazz, Seat Ibiza, Suzuki Swift and Volkswagen Polo appear astronomical compared with their list prices. At least it’s only the higher-spec versions of these cars that have sealed units; lower trims come with halogens that can be changed for far less money.
Even if the headlight unit isn’t sealed, it’s still far more expensive to replace an HID bulb than a halogen in many models. For example, an HID bulb and control unit for an Audi A1 S-Line Nav costs £211, while a halogen bulb for an SE is just £18, and an HID bulb for a Vauxhall Corsa Elite costs £317, yet a halogen bulb for a lower- spec version is only £17.
Why do LED and HID bulbs cost so much more than halogens?
For a start they last a lot longer than halogen bulbs because they don’t have a fragile filament that’s prone to breaking. It is difficult to precisely predict the lifespan of a headlight bulb because it depends on the voltage being put through it, and that can vary during each trip, depending on factors such as the outside air temperature. However, on average, a tungsten halogen bulb can be expected to last for between 500 and 1000 hours and a HID one for about 2500 hours and some industry experts say LEDs are capable of lasting for 10 years.
Suzuki claims its HID bulbs work for three times as long as halogens, and Honda says its LED bulbs are designed to last for the lifetime of the car. Vauxhall adds that it has worked on keeping headlight repair costs down by producing replacement headlight unit brackets that cost £19, so in low impact accidents where the headlight unit isn’t damaged, only the bracket needs to be replaced.
So, the longevity of LED and HID bulbs makes them a viable option on a new car. However, if you’re buying a used car as a second household vehicle or as a first car for a son or daughter, you – and they – could be landed with a massive repair bill for a blown bulb that could even render the car a write-off due to it being uneconomical to repair.
Is anything being done to reduce the cost of replacement lights?
Little has been done to bring down headlight prices so far, but Greg Whitaker, editor of our sister magazine, Car and Accessory Trader, predicts that when the number of sealed headlight units that need to be replaced increases, aftermarket repairers will pick up on this and start to offer a more affordable solution. They’re likely to develop a service that will involve cutting light units open, replacing the bulbs and then putting them back together.
“It’s happened in the past with a number of car parts,” says Whitaker. “The floating speedometer needle in the Mercedes C-Class was prone to breaking and AC Tronics created a fix for this. And the ECU in the Vauxhall Meriva had some fragile components that frequently broke, so a fix for this was also created.”
It won’t be a case of owners simply being able to buy a replacement part over the counter, though, because so many car parts are now coded to cars for security. Instead, aftermarket repairers will collect the failed headlight unit from the garage or owner via courier, repair it and return it the same day.
Cost comparison: new headlight bulbs for small cars
|Make and model||Trim level||Headlight type||Price|
|Audi A1||S line Nav||HID||£211 (bulb and control unit)|
|Citroen C3||All trim levels||Halogen||£20|
|Dacia Sandero||All trim levels||Halogen||£11|
|Honda Jazz||ES, SE||Halogen||£8|
|Honda Jazz||EX, Sport||LED||£714 (sealed headlight unit)|
|Kia Rio||All trim levels||Halogen||£9 to £11|
|Mini||All trim levels||HID||£11|
|Renault Clio||All trim levels||Halogen||£9|
|Seat Ibiza||SE, SE Technology||Halogen||£17|
|Seat Ibiza||FR, FR Sport, Xcellence, Xcellence Lux||LED||£827 (sealed headlight unit)|
|Skoda Fabia||All trim levels||Halogen||£9|
|Suzuki Swift||SZ3, SZT||Halogen||£4|
|Suzuki Swift||SZ5||HID||£684 (sealed headlight unit)|
|Toyota Yaris||All trim levels||Halogen||£26|
|Vauxhall Corsa||All except Elite||Halogen||£17|
|Volkswagen Polo||All except GTI||Halogen||£18|
Bright lights mean a greater risk of being dazzled
Car makers and light manufacturers have made headlights significantly brighter in the past few years, including by using light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which turn on instantly and consume much less energy than other types of bulbs. LEDs, in particular, tend to be used more on expensive luxury and sports cars, due to their high cost, partly for decorative purposes and partly because they produce a longer, cleaner beam. The problem is that LED and HID lights are so intense that they can dazzle drivers in oncoming cars, even on dipped beam.
The UK has an ageing population, and as we age, our eyes cope less well with the glare of bright lights. In extreme cases, people can develop a condition called ‘disability glare’, which means it can take them up to 10 seconds to recover from the glare of bright lights.
A recent RAC study revealed that nearly two-thirds (58%) of drivers had been dazzled by the oncoming lights of cars with LED and HID lights.
The British Government and others have acknowledged that the brightness of modern car headlights is a problem and are working with the UN’s Working Party on Lighting and Light Signalling to find a solution.
What Car? says...
If you’re going to keep your car for many years or are buying secondhand, we’d recommend avoiding models and trim levels that have sealed headlight units. Stick with halogen bulbs if you want the cheapest replacement bulb costs, or go for a model such as the Mini hatchback that lets you replace HID bulbs separately.
If your car fails its MOT test because the lights aren’t bright enough, rather than replacing the light units, you can buy a headlight restoration kit for less than £20. You can use this kit to polish up yellowed or lightly scratched headlight lenses so they’re crystal clear again.
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